Mass rabies vaccination programs for dogs in developing nations could eliminate human cases of the deadly disease, a new study suggests.

Rabies is rare in developed nations due to widespread vaccination of dogs. However, the disease kills about 69,000 people worldwide each year, or 189 a day. Forty percent of rabies victims are children, mostly in Africa and Asia, according to background information with the study.

The saliva of infected dogs is the primary source of infection in people.

"The irony is that rabies is 100 percent preventable. People shouldn't be dying at all," study co-author Dr. Guy Palmer, a veterinary infectious disease expert and director of the Washington State University School for Global Animal Health, said in a university news release.

Political complacency and a lack of international commitment are among the reasons why rabies in people persist, even though eliminating the disease "meets all the criteria for a global health priority: It is epidemiologically and logistically feasible, cost-effective and socially equitable," the researchers wrote in the Sept. 26 issue of the journal Science.

The study cites the success of mass dog vaccination clinics in the African nation of Tanzania. The clinics are held in 180 villages and vaccinate as many as 1,000 dogs a day, the researchers said.

Since the program started in 2003, it has vaccinated about 70 percent of dogs in the region and the number of people killed by rabies has fallen from about 50 a year to nearly none, according to the researchers.

More information

Canine saliva primary source of potentially deadly infections in Third...

Canine saliva primary source of potentially deadly infections in Third World nations Credit: HealthDay

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about rabies.

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